Our offense and defense is not based on beating a team with overwhelming talent, it is based on scheme, teamwork and technique. We simply can’t get those all in sync unless we consistently get all the kids together.
On the very first day of football practice during that mandatory parents meeting, we talk in depth about the attendance requirements that are required to have the privilege of playing on our youth football team. We have a very hard 2 strikes and you’re out policy, two unexcused absences and we pick up your gear. Two excused absences means a reduction in playing time. Our definition of an excused absence is for a church sponsored education event or ritual, a school sponsored mandatory educational event (not skate parties) or a family wedding or funeral. If a player is so sick he is not in school, he gets a pass as well , we check on him via his classmates. A coach must be contacted ahead of time for the absence to be defined as excused. We make it very clear we do not negotiate off of this standard and the player signs a contract agreeing to these terms. We do not allow the practices or games of other sports to ever take priority over our football practices or games.
Since we practice less than any youth football team in our league, it is imperative we get 100% attendance at practice. We feel because of our unique practice methodology, pace and priorities, we can get as much or more done in one of our typical 2 hour practices than most of our competition can get done in 2 practices.
In my 2 year study of successful and poor youth football teams, there was no direct correlation of more practice time equating to wins. In fact many of the perennial poor teams I studied started earlier and practiced more than the successful teams I studied. The keys were priorities, pace and scheme.
If we have an injured player, we require he attends practice and watches. If we have a player that is falling behind in his schoolwork, we require that he attends football practice with his books and homework and does his schoolwork off to the side while we practice. We let those kids know we are disappointed in them, we need them, their team mates need them, they are letting the team down and they need to get the schoolwork squared up ASAP. The peer pressure this brings to bear means we rarely see this problem rear its ugly head.
In 1998, first year we had this attendance policy we lost just 1 player and this was with a team right across the street from Omaha’s most violent housing projects, with very little parental involvement and support. In 1999 we had some kids that were suffering some major issues not under their control at home and I came off the standard, our attendance plummeted and our drop rates spiraled upward. The next year we went back to the original standard and again we had very high attendance numbers, so we have stuck with the hard standard ever since. In the last 4 seasons I have lost just 2-3 players due to them not meeting the attendance standard.
It just isn't fair to the kids that come to football practice every day for a coach to start or even play a player that has unexcused absences. You crush the spirit of the loyal hard working kids that see that being consistent and working hard gets them no reward, it matters little. Is that the kind of lesson we want the kids to learn? Is winning that next game more important than teaching all the kids life lessons? Let's not even get into the parent hassles you solve by linking attendance to playing time or even inclusion on your team.
Part of our success may come from our practice methodology and the fact our football practices have segments that are a lot of fun. It may also come from the fact we practice less than our competitors, ease our kids into contact and do lots of fit and freeze technique drills rather than dulling and beating the kids up with large space full contact drills. Our kids are itching to come to practice, not dreading it.
When a player does choose to have that second unexcused absence we make sure to pick up his gear and leave it in a pile at football practice right in the cal lines to remind our players how serious we are about attendance. If we give the kids and even parents a free pass on this, what kind of lessons are we teaching? Won’t the player be required to attend school or how about when it comes time for him to work, won’t he be required to attend there regularly?
When coaching youth football remember you have a duty to that player beyond football. Holding him accountable to a standard may be the biggest “favor” you ever do for them. Have an attendance standard and stick to it, no matter the short term pain it causes you or your team. In the end it is what’s best for your kids and your team. It will earn you the respect of your players and parents in the end.
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